Reading Mercury

Saturday, July 3rd 1859


In modern years it has been very much the fashion to promote the objects of charitable institutions by means of rural fêtes, and this expedient, whilst possessing features of novelty, has been attended by an issue as gratifying and successful as could possibly be desired. Recreation and amusement of the most agreeable character have been afforded to thousands of people at such fêtes, the objects of the particular society or institution have been thus more extensively made known, and the pecuniary benefit accruing to such has been greater than could have been hoped for in any other way. One object deserving of public sympathy and support is the Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund of the Great Western Railway, established not for the purpose of affording temporary but permanent assistance to the widows and families of those men who may meet with their death by accident or otherwise whilst in the service of the company; and, for a few years past this fund has been considerably augmented by some rural festivities which the committee have been fortunate enough to arrange. The fête for the present season took place on Tuesday last, in Basildon Park, the seat of Mrs. Morrison, who, from a desire to assist the laudable fund, most generously placed her noble domain at the disposal of the committee. The directors of the railway have always been willing coadjutors in the cause, and allowed special trains to run to the station nearest to the place selected for the fête. The weather was delightfully fine, and the scenery from the park on a clear bright day (such as was last Tuesday) is most enchanting, and of itself worthy alone a visit to Basildon. About noon, a “special" from Paddington arrived at the Pangbourne station, with upwards of 1,000 holiday folks, accompanied by the Paddington brass band, playing some lively piece for the amusement of the passengers. The distance between Pangbourne and Basildon is nearly two miles, and for those who were not fond of pedestrian exertion, omnibuses from London were provided, and the thousands who arrived at the station were conveyed to the scene of amusement at a small fare. The trains from Cheltenham, Oxford, Hungerford, and Newbury, brought thousands more, and the arrivals by boats from Reading Wallingford, and other places, were also numerous. On reaching the park gates, every one stopped to admire the neat and perfect exhibition of holiday architecture erected by Mr. George Boyer, of Newbury, who designed and constructed it in an exceedingly short space of time. Between the lodges of the gate were two fasciae, bearing among the foliage the arms of the Great Western Railway Company, each in a lozenge form, surmounted by poles, and over the gate was a triumphal arch, having in a circle the initials of the company gracefully intertwined, the arch having above it flags of all nations artistically arranged, floating in the gentle breeze. In the circle were the words, “Bear ye one another's burden,” and underneath was the motto of the arms of Mrs. Morrison: “Proetio prudential proestat.” Under the lozenges in the fasciae appeared the following: “Widows and Orphans,” “G. W. R. Benevolent Society." These decorations were certainly very pretty, and reflected much credit upon the taste and ability of Mr. Boyer. The committee, with their indefatigable secretary, Mr. Baker, made very ample provision for the amusement of visitors. The band of the Berkshire Militia, under Mr. McCroban, and those from Paddington and Slough, were placed in different positions on raised platforms, from whence they played a variety of operatic and popular airs in the most pleasing style. The popular “Sam Collins,” performed several times to the amusement of his audiences, and at his last appearance in the evening he was surrounded by between 2,000 and 3,000 people. The melodies by Mr. and Mrs. Nash, and even Punch and Judy, proved as attractive as at any fair, and gave their drolleries with great force. For the convenience and comfort of visitors commodious tents were erected on different parts of the ground, and refreshments of every kind were provided by Mr. Ford, of the “Elephant and Castle” Hotel, Pangbourne, who conducted that branch of the entertainment in a creditable manner. The terrace and gardens near the mansion were open to the visitors the whole of the day. From the terrace the scenery is the most beautiful and varied that can be found in the Royal County; and here many were found to be lounging, thoroughly enchanted with the picture of nature before them. The gardens were in the highest state of perfection, and the lovers of floriculture had presented to their view much to delight them. The votaries of Terpsichore were abundantly provided for: to prevent the pressure experienced on former occasions, a piece of ground near each band was staked round, and, by means of ropes, the crowd was kept off, and the dance thus proceeded without interruption. Matthews’ quadrille band was stationed just beneath the terrace, and the largest company was at all times to be seen there. Mr. Bareham, the M.C., performed the duties assigned to him in a very efficient manner, and gave great satisfaction to all who joined in the “merrie dance.” We cannot speak too highly of the performances of the Berkshire Militia Band, under Mr. McCrohan. Their programme comprised some excellent pieces, and the whole was given in a manner that excited the admiration of the great majority of the visitors. In the evening, and during the time the family at the mansion were dining, this band played a choice selection of music on the terrace, and Mrs. Morrison was pleased to convey to the committee the gratification which the performances of the militia band had afforded her. As the first train was announced to leave Pangbourne at 7.50, the people began to leave the park shortly after seven o'clock and make their way towards the station. At half-past eight o'clock, few hundreds only of persons remained in the park, and at nine all, except those connected with the tents, had taken their departure from Basildon towards their homes, and thus closed another fête in connection with the Great Western Railway Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund. The unbounded thanks of every person connected with this fête were expressed towards Mrs. Morrison, for the permission so cordially and charitably afforded for holding the gathering in Basildon Park, and she will doubtless have the immense satisfaction of knowing that she has by such an act of her graciousness contributed so much to the welfare of the institution for whose benefit this and similar fêtes have been held. It is due to the committee, and Messrs. Baker, Harper, and Banks, to state that as far as they were able, they made every possible arrangement to ensure the comfort and convenience of visitors. The Reading people certainly had cause to complain that they were not permitted to be conveyed to Pangbourne by any but the ordinary trains. Had the excursion or special trains been allowed to have taken passengers from Reading, at least 1,000 would have gone from the town. However, many were determined to be at the fête, and vehicles were in requisition to drive parties to the scene of amusement. In the evening, a considerable number returned by the Newbury and Hungerford train, and had that been allowed to have gone direct into the station passengers could have reached home by nine o'clock. The train, however, from some inexplicable cause, was taken round on the loop line towards the Berks and Hants junction, and there detained for an hour, until every train, up and down, had passed through the station. This delay was a severe tax upon the patience of the passengers, and all were loud and severe in their expressions of dissatisfaction at this part of the arrangements. ‘The fault, it is believed, did not rest with the officials here, but in other quarters. A body of the County Constabulary, under the direction of Superintendent Crook and Sergeant-Major Purchase, was in attendance, and no breach of order occurred. Mrs. Morrison has very generously sent a donation of £10 to the fund, and expressed herself highly pleased with the conduct of the visitors to the fête. The committee were greatly assisted in carrying out their arrangements by Mrs. Morrison’s steward, Mr. Sandford, who did all in his power to further their wishes, and afforded them every possible facility.


In the former part of the fête day at Basildon, an accident occurred which was a sad drawback to the pleasures of some of the parties. A young lady was perambulating the grounds, when suddenly her dress burst into full blaze. She appeared instantly to lose her presence of mind, and, instead of calling for assistance, she screamed and ran away, thus increasing the fury of the flames. Some instantly set off after her, but could not catch her; a person, however, coming from the opposite direction stopped her and threw her down, and by rolling her on the grass, extinguished the fire, not, however, until her dress had been destroyed. Without delay she was driven in a fly to the surgery of Mr. Kidgell, at Pangbourne, who immediately attended to the unfortunate sufferer. He found the injury to be chiefly in the arm; it was rather extensive, but not of a serious character. She was enabled to return to her home the same evening. The accident is supposed to have originated from some lighted tobacco having been thrown on the grass.

Transcribed by Colin and Daniel Taylor, 2019